“Young master Roel? You’re referring to the young master of the Ascart House whom we protected a while back?”
“Yes, that’s him.”
In the armory of the Ironwall Mercenaries, its leader—a tall, long-haired woman named Cynthia—glared at the old secretary of the mercenary band with a displeased frown on her face.
“They’re telling us to go under the Ascart Fiefdom’s command? Are you joking with me?”
“That’s the notice we have received from Rosa’s officials. They say that there have been some modifications to the contract, and we’ll be coming under the Ascart Fiefdom. They want us to heed young master Roel’s instructions from now onward. As for the salary…”
“It’s the Theocracy we’re talking about here!”
Cynthia angrily interrupted the old secretary, shouting out the concerns that the other members of the mercenary band shared.
The Saint Mesit Theocracy was home to the Genesis Goddess Church, and it was known for its peace and stability. It was the holy land for the believers of Sia, where they sought to be. However, the same couldn’t be said about the heretics.
Ever since the March Turmoil around two hundred years ago, large flocks of heretics had been constantly migrating away from the Saint Mesit Theocracy, causing the number of heretics in its territories to remain low even to this day. This was an inevitable result of the hostility directed toward heretics by the people and laws there.
In contrast, Rosa’s people and laws were much more accepting.
In the many years since the formation of the Ironwall Mercenaries, they had never taken up any jobs in the Saint Mesit Theocracy before. It was only because Charlotte had offered an unusually huge sum this time that they made an exception and accompanied her to the Ascart Fiefdom. Even so, they still ended up being held in custody by the Theocracy, and it was only in the last few days that they were finally released.
“Can we turn down the offer?”
“Not to Rosa.”
“What if we slip them money?”
“That won’t work. It’s a decision made by the upper echelons.”
The old secretary stroked his beard contemplatively before heaving a sigh. He turned to Cynthia and advised.
“There’s only one chance if we wish to turn down the offer. There will be a negotiation regarding this very soon, and you can relay your thoughts to young master Roel in person.”
“Hey! Are you telling our leader to face a noble of the Theocracy?”
“That won’t do. That’s too dangerous!”
The words of the old secretary stirred a huge commotion as the members of the mercenary band overthrew the idea right away agitatedly. Due to Cynthia’s beauty, she would rarely attend any formal meetings, especially those involving nobles, as it often led to a whole stream of trouble afterward.
Her beautiful appearance and identity as a heretic had caused Cynthia to be previously hounded by quite a few disgusting nobles. Some of them even haughtily ‘offered’ to take her in as their mistress, as if they were doing her a favor. Just thinking about it infuriated the other members of the mercenary band.
Cynthia was thirty this year, but her slow aging as a transcendent kept her appearance at a youthful eighteen. As the daughter of the previous leader, she had been following the mercenary band on their missions from a young age, allowing her to accrue significant experience. That, along with her talent, allowed her to mature into an Origin Level 3 expert at a young age.
Had she been from one of the Three Main Origin Attributes, not even the most brazen of nobles would dare to speak to her in such a manner. However, it just so happened that she was a heretic. It was simply the norm for nobles in this world to discriminate against heretics.
“There’s not a single good person in the upper echelons of the Theocracy! Do you still remember Leyton’s mercenary band? They went through so much hardship to complete their mission, only to be paid less than half of the agreed sum just because they are heretics!”
“What does that count as? Have you forgotten how our people were held hostage by the soldiers of the Theocracy? In the end, our headquarters had to raise money in order to pay the ransom before they were freed!”
Furious voices listed examples of the Theocracy oppressing the heretics, leading to Cynthia’s face turning grim.
She stroked her chin as she weighed the pros and cons of this matter, but she only became more and more convinced that she had to resolve this matter personally. There was no doubt the Ironwall Mercenaries was in a weaker position here; they couldn’t afford to offend Rosa or the Ascart Fiefdom here.
After a long moment of silence, she revealed her decision.
“… I’ll speak to him personally.”
In a luxurious carriage, a fully armored Cynthia took a deep breath as she tried her best to calm her nerves.
It was not recklessness that she decided to confront the Ascart Fiefdom on this matter. She had considered this matter carefully and evaluated the chances of success based on her impression of Roel Ascart back when she was still at the Ascarts’ manor.
Roel Ascart should be thirteen this year, making him far younger than her. His reputation was fairly good, and she had spotted him getting intimate with Charlotte Sorofya on several occasions. There were rumors that the two of them were engaged to one another, which sounded credible given how Roel was currently residing in the Hundred Birds Gallery.
No matter how she looked at the matter, it didn’t seem likely that Roel would make a move on her, or else it would be an offense to the Sorofyas. Besides, she wouldn’t be completely helpless even if he attempted something—she wasn’t an Origin Level 3 transcendent for show.
He might be of lofty standing, but how powerful could a child like him be? Besides, he seems to be very ill.
These thoughts calmed Cynthia’s heart a little as the carriage finally arrived at its destination.
She opened the doors of the carriage and walked out. She was asked to put away her weapons before being put through a series of spell examinations. Following that, the servants led her across a corridor and up a flight of stairs, toward the study room where Roel was currently in.
The guards in the Hundred Birds Gallery had already been replaced with the Sorofyas’ personal guards, and this left Cynthia a little unnerved. However, when she finally opened the doors to the study room, her worries suddenly dissipated along with the wind.
In the middle of the study room carrying the faint scent of wood and paper, a suave black-haired boy sat on a chair, casually flipping through a book. He had a gentle and calming aura that made his presence comfortable. He seemed much more spirited compared to the last time she saw him. A slight breeze blew in from the window, ruffling his hair a little.
For a moment there, Cynthia was dazed by how ethereal the boy with a book in his hands looked.
How good-looking… No, that’s not the main point here. There are actually no guards in the room!
She gathered her confidence and walked into the room. She started off by bowing slightly to Roel, courteously taking off her helmet as etiquette necessitated. Her beautiful appearance was finally revealed, inducing a slight dilation in Roel’s pupils.
“You are the leader of the Ironwall Mercenaries?”
“Yes. My name is Cynthia Algert. I wrote my surname on the registration log in order to avoid the hassle.”
Roel nodded slightly to express his understanding of Cynthia’s action. He started the conversation off by asking Cynthia her views regarding the Ironwall Mercenaries coming under the Ascart Fiefdom.
Faced with the calm question, Cynthia gritted her teeth and mentioned what she had discussed with the others earlier on.
“Esteemed proxy fief lord of the Ascart Fiefdom, I’m thankful for the high opinion you have of us, but I’m sorry that we aren’t able to fulfill your request. As a heretical mercenary band, we can’t base our operations in the Theocracy. To be honest, we have never taken up any missions in the Theocracy before…”
There was no particular reaction from Roel as he calmly listened to Cynthia explaining the reasons behind her refusal, but in truth, his heart was sinking.
It’s indeed not an easy feat to get the heretics to move to the Ascart Fiefdom.
Roel had foreseen such a situation beforehand, and he had prepared a countermeasure too.
“You need not worry about your safety in the Ascart Fiefdom. The Ascart Fiefdom is autonomous in nature and has its own local laws separate from that of the Theocracy. I’ll ensure that your interests are safeguarded to the best of my abilities. Also, the upper echelons of the Theocracy are changing their views toward heretics in view of the chaos occurring at the eastern border. It won’t be long before the Theocracy revises its policies concerning heretics; I can promise you that much.”
Roel spoke in conviction as he thought about the golden-haired girl who had been through the March Turmoil with him. However, these words did little to assuage Cynthia’s concern. She thought that he was taking her for a ride here. Be it the thoughts of the upper echelons or the future policies of the Theocracy, these were crucial information that a mere successor shouldn’t be privy to.
She was oblivious to the fact that even though Roel didn’t have an official noble position, his relationship with the Xeclydes had already surpassed that of a liege and a subject. Be it Holy Eminence John or Princess Nora, they treated Roel as one of their own and didn’t bother hiding confidential secrets from him. As a matter of fact, he was indeed privy to such crucial information.
But of course, there was no way Cynthia would know since the Ironwall Mercenaries wasn’t active in the Theocracy. Her disbelief greatly increased her perceived risks of this deal, prompting her to reject him once more.
“Esteemed proxy fief lord, I’m gladdened by the impending changes of the Theocracy you speak of, but the discrimination of the Theocracy toward heretics is deep-rooted. Even if the laws change, the prejudice of the nobles will not change that easily. We’ll only besmirch your reputation.”
Gazing at the woman whose head was respectfully lowered to him, Roel frowned. He pondered for a moment before asking calmly.
“Nobles, you say. That’s a broad term. Are you thinking that I’d discriminate against you too?”
“… I dare not to. Pardon me for my disrespect.”
‘I dare not to’ instead of ‘I don’t’, hm?
Picking up the hidden message in Cynthia’s words, Roel was able to catch a glimpse into just how great her prejudice toward the Theocracy’s nobles was.
It looks like I’ll have to go all out.
Roel reached out for the Nine-headed Serpent Staff that was placed by his side and rubbed its handle gently. He began assessing at the heavily-armored Cynthia intently, and his bold stare immediately caught the latter’s attention.
Cynthia’s face began to stiffen. She had received far too many of such stares for her not to know the significance behind it. This was exactly what made her fearful of coming into contact with nobles, even forming a trauma of sorts. She clenched her fists tightly and spoke hoarsely.
“Milord, I’m already thirty years of age. It has been many years since I’ve been assigned as Miss Charlotte’s personal guard…”
Cynthia mentioned her age and Charlotte’s name in hopes of curbing Roel’s ‘desires’, but to her despair, it was completely futile. He didn’t back down after hearing all of that; instead, he rose to his feet and walked up to her.
“I said, kneel down. You’re too tall.”
Cynthia’s mind went blank for a moment when she heard Roel’s request before clenching her fists in fury.
All men knew how amorous of a position it was to have a woman kneel right in front of them, but the problem was that there was nothing wrong with this order. All he had done was to request her to kneel down, and it was perfectly normal for a commoner to kneel before a noble.
Cynthia reminded herself that the Ascart House was far too influential to turn into an enemy as she reined in her pride and slowly lowered herself. She clutched tightly to the final sliver of hope that Roel wouldn’t attempt to do anything overboard.
If he was really intending to have her do that sort of thing, she would bolt out of the room right away and leave the Hundred Birds Gallery. To her surprise, however, Roel raised her hand to placed it atop her head. A heavy and authoritative pressure suddenly crushed her body.
Wait a moment, what’s going on? I can’t move at all!
She was horrified to learn that she had lost control of her body. This situation made her understand that she had wrongly assessed Roel’s strength; he was actually a monster far beyond her wildest imagination!
The next moment, a surge of mana suddenly flowed into her body.
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